Creating an ‘un-call center’ with creative, cost-effective design

Feb. 11, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Interstate Office Products.

The task: Turn a building filled with college classrooms into a modern office for a fast-growing tech company.

And get it done quick while keeping on budget.

Farmers Business Network, or FBN, was rapidly outgrowing its Sioux Falls office and had just a few months to turn part of the former Globe University into what Kelby Kleinsasser envisioned as “an un-call center.”

While many of the more than 100 employees spend a lot of their day on the phone, the goal was to create an environment that “would be a major differentiator,” said Kleinsasser, vice president of operations and head of the FBN National Operational Center.

That meant opening up the space, enlarging windows to bring in more light and eliminating individual offices – even for leadership.

“I did a lot of research on what really distinguishes a technology office, and then there are benchmarks for financial offices and call centers. And I determined we’re a hybrid – a financial center and a tech office and a call center,” Kleinsasser said.

FBN also is growing so fast it didn’t have a lot of time to spend designing a space. Fortunately, VanDeWalle Architects quickly captured the company’s vision, and Interstate Office Products emerged from a competitive bidding process as the company’s furniture designer and provider.

“Their CEO, Gary Gaspar, is an old friend of mine, but it was a competitive situation, and IOP came in with the right solution for us,” Kleinsasser said.

IOP designers Mark Payne and Abby Tufvesson started working on the project; it was Tufvesson’s first at IOP after joining the company from another local firm.

“I was only a week into the job, but IOP put trust in my ability as a designer to find what the client was looking for, and Mark was a great mentor to guide me through the project,” she said. “I knew from that point this was the place for me.”

The first item addressed was the company’s standard work station.

“It became a significant upgrade for them, but it didn’t break the bank,” Payne said.

Farmers Business Network chose a fairly basic work surface from Steelcase, which included a filing cabinet underneath.

“We needed to open up the employee’s work space. They were working in a rectangle before, and we wanted to give them more access,” said Dennis Kautz, head of sales development at FBN.

“We wanted something more durable than what we had. Steelcase was a product line we talked about, and Kelby was concerned it might be out of our budget, but they were able to work with us on a line in the Steelcase family that fell well within our budget.”

Kautz was particularly familiar with the brand and with IOP. He and Payne worked together there years ago.

“I wouldn’t say I had a bias selecting vendors, but I knew the professionalism and the work result we would get,” he said. “And they did nothing but exceed expectations as far as the quote process, the design process and their responsiveness.”

Then, the IOP team got to work with some of the office’s more unique spaces. They settled on seating that includes a small work area and space to plug in for the reception area.

“We went through different manufacturers to find the perfect size,” Tufvesson said. “We had to find something that fit the space, fit the budget and fit the look.”

The seating has been well used already by guests, FBN office manager Kaylie Leuthold said.

“It’s a real upgrade from the IKEA furniture we had,” she said. “We wanted something comfortable and appealing to the eye, especially for guests and potential new hires. And the outlets are a nice feature for those who need to plug in and do some charging while they’re working with us.”

An area of common space with a butcher block look became the design inspiration for other common areas.

“That was the start of the whole theme,” Payne said. “The furniture is a newer product that is known for desk accessories and has expanded into other items.”

The space is used every morning for a stand-up meeting to start the day.

Additional common areas include higher tables with outlets.

“We encourage our people to get up from their desks from time to time,” Kautz said. “We make a lot of phone calls, and this lets them get refocused and re-energized, and work in a different environment.”

IOP also helped the company decide on tables and chairs for its large meeting room and training center.

“Our training manager’s priority was a comfortable chair, and as office manager I wanted something nested and easily movable,” Leuthold said. “We worked with IOP to find the chairs, and they turned out better than we ever imagined. They’re extremely comfortable and really nice looking, and we’re really happy with them. And the tables flip up and are easily stored.”

The company also uses a lot of white boards, Payne added, and “we have a really good source for good, steel porcelain magnetic white boards. They get used a lot, and Steelcase has one that prices out very well and has a lifetime warranty and is really easy to use.”

Then there’s the break room. It features free snacks and beverages for employees and provides space for group and individual lunches and downtime. IOP helped choose bistro tables and lounge pieces for the space.

“We have separate tables and couches, and some face the interstate to look out the window and take a break,” Leuthold said. “We wanted something comfortable that looks nice. And the stools we selected are perfect for what we needed them for and move easily.”

Pulling it all together on budget took expert sourcing. Payne and Tufvesson mixed six to eight lines of furniture to achieve the goal.

“We really wanted them to have a new-feeling space and bring in as much new furniture as possible while keeping their budget in mind,” she said. “So we were thorough in sourcing product to get as much as we could.”

It definitely hit the mark with the leadership team.

“If you were to look at what we spent relative to what we could have spent, it was probably middle of the line, maybe even closer to value line,” Kleinsasser said. “And at no point did I ever feel like IOP was pushing us to spend more. That’s part of why I have bad memories about buying office furniture in the past.”

IOP also helped make it easier for the FBN team to narrow down its options.

“As we had to make decisions on seating, cubicle space, colors, they were able to find specialty items from vendors to find solutions for everything we asked for, and they simplified the process,” Kautz said. “If I had to sit down and go through all those options, we’d still be making decisions.”

The final space “far exceeded our vision,” Kleinsasser said.

“As the finishes came together, I immediately went from thinking it was going to be a vanilla but functional space to thinking we had an amazing space that not only our current employees will love but also that’s going to attract top talent.”

Creating an ‘un-call center’ with creative, cost-effective design

They set out to turn a former college building into an “un-call center” appealing to workers. Here’s how Farmers Business Network got its new office redesigned on time and on budget.

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